This message was sent to the entire Wake Forest community.
Dear Wake Forest community,
The recent and ongoing perfect storm of a global pandemic, an economic recession and civil unrest have brought to the forefront, with renewed vigor, the injustices and inequity that plague our society. Black lives matter, and this truth has brought us into a much larger conversation about the impact of racism, white supremacy and inequity.
At Wake Forest, we are working to address, however imperfectly, some of our own issues regarding race, marginalization and barriers to the full educational experience. The current state of our nation makes the effort within our own community even more necessary and timely than when we first began, and I am writing to share with you where that work now stands.
Wake Forest has had to confront the realities of its history and its present in order to shape a better future for all in our community. For several years, multiple members of our community have engaged in the work of investigating and acknowledging how our institution’s roots are entwined in the abhorrent practices of the Southern slave economy through the Slavery, Race and Memory Project. On February 20, on behalf of our entire community, and with the full support of the Board of Trustees, I made a public apology for the University’s history with slavery. On April 24, the Board unanimously approved a formal resolution unequivocally apologizing for the University’s exploitation and use of enslaved people. We will soon share a collection of essays and findings commissioned by the Slavery, Race and Memory Project that will further help us acknowledge and understand our past.
Recognition of our past is a necessary step toward continuing our current work to dismantle the lingering vestiges of the institution of slavery, racism and inequities that undermine our community. Several months ago, I created the President’s Commission for Race, Equity and Community charged with assessing the current realities and present condition of our institution’s policies and practices. The goal was to develop specific and actionable recommendations that will cultivate a more diverse, equitable and welcoming learning community.
The Commission’s Work
More than 30 members of the University community, led by Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion/Chief Diversity Officer José Villalba and Associate Dean for Faculty Recruitment, Diversity and Inclusion Erica Still, have served with dedication and compassion on the President’s Commission. In the midst of the great challenges these past few months, they have continued to make their work a priority and have completed the charge. They have recently shared with me their findings and recommendations in a comprehensive report that I am making available to the community.
I am grateful to the Commission for their work and am dedicated to putting their recommendations into action in the coming year. I have great confidence in the Commission’s report, as it is grounded in a variety of perspectives, experiences, data points and fields of expertise. As was their objective, the Commission has provided a roadmap for the work that lies before us. It includes an extensive set of goals and outcomes for the institution. With the research and recommendations in hand, we are now ready to start the work and build upon what the Commission has started.
Now that I have received the report, I will officially present the recommendations from the President’s Commission to the Board of Trustees, Reynolda Cabinet and the Faculty Senate. Working groups will prioritize the recommendations and organize the steps necessary to address five key areas: student experience; faculty and staff experience; academic initiatives; institutional accountability; and community engagement. It is our goal to have these working groups established and operational by September 30.
These working groups will be composed of a wide range of members within our community who will think broadly and specifically about the University. They are intended to be an important way to mobilize efforts behind the Commission’s recommendations. They will provide the structure that we will work within; the rest of us will provide the effort.
All of us must work toward a better Wake Forest, and I am asking for your commitment to engage in this critical undertaking. Here are several ways that we can take action right now.
Second, the working groups will be hosting community forums and focus groups to gather data, engage in deliberative dialogues and provide more information. I invite you to participate in these events and discussions.
Third, as presented in the report, we will adopt the RIDE (Realizing Inclusion, Diversity and Equity) Framework to guide our work as we nurture our community and affirm the value of each among us. In the fall, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion will host a community conversation about the RIDE Framework in addition to a series of sessions that will help us examine the ways that inclusion, diversity and equity are manifest in our respective spaces. Please look for more information on the Commission’s website about these events later this summer and plan to be a part of them.
Fourth, the President’s Commission was one part of a larger institutional effort to illuminate our history, address our present and reaffirm our commitments for the future. Other groups, including the Slavery, Race and Memory Project and the Committee on the Intersection of Bias, Expression and Conduct are complementing the strides we have already seen. Continue following and engaging with their efforts on their respective websites.
Initial Action Taken
Denouncing the atrocities we have witnessed is imperative. Actively working to create communities where justice and equity reign is even more important. Knowing that black lives matter must rise above the performative and perfunctory through deliberate, sustained effort.
Recently, we have taken some intentional and important steps, including hiring Dr. Corey D. B. Walker as the inaugural chair of the African American Studies program and creating a new Center for Research, Engagement and Collaboration in African American Life (RECAAL), led by Dr. Derek S. Hicks. I look forward to working alongside these two Wake Forest leaders.
As we move into this next phase of acknowledging our past, addressing our present and building a better future, I seek your unfettered commitment to this community, your patience and perseverance in the work to come, and your candor and compassion with one another. Together, we can make Wake Forest a truly welcoming place for all who wish to call it home.
Nathan O. Hatch